For the sixth year, Etiko has received an A+ ranking in the Australian Ethical Fashion Guide.
Each company who submits an application to the report is assessed on 33 criteria mainly relating to wage payment within supply chains, policies, worker empowerment, transparency and traceability.
After years of asking for the environmental impact and policies of fashion brands to be included, we were stoked to see 10% of this year’s rating allocation dedicated to this topic.
Companies were finally assessed not just for supply chain ethics, but also on their environmental ethics. Intrinsically linked topics in our minds.
While this is a definite step in the right direction, and we are so delighted to be an A+ brand once again, it would be naive to think this report is the be-all and end-all of ethical fashion ratings.
Because we always want to encourage critical analysis and reflection, here are a few things worth considering to avoid being blind-sighted by ranking systems.
Every application to Baptist World Aid’s Ethical Fashion Report is self-reported. Companies put hand over heart and report on their policies, wages and work conditions. While most applications are probably honest and accurate, self-reporting can be problematic for so many reasons.
Compared to Fairtrade companies who are regularly and rigorously assessed at all levels of their supply chain to ensure compliance with strict policies, companies who self-assess and then self-report have a certain freedom. They are free to prioritise where they focus their efforts and their money, and they can choose how they communicate those decisions. No one double checks. No one scrutinises too heavily. Hand over heart honesty. Right?
A company who has spent decades paying supply chain workers a minimum wage, instead of a living wage, have made incredible profits. Now, with a bank balance full to the brim they are changing their ways. This is a good thing, a great thing in fact. Those factory workers should be paid a living wage, but they should have been paid that all along. What are the motives for this change of heart? Is it an opportunity for the company to raise prices? Are they appealing solely to customer trends and hoping to gain buy-in from a previously untapped market? Is it simply a matter of bending a knee to the Australian government’s Modern Slavery Act?
A company who profited from poor ethics, who used those profits to pay for advertising and marketing to once again, increase their profits, can afford to pay higher wages with almost no impact on their brand.
Small companies dedicated to doing the right thing from day dot, do it tough. They don’t have high profits, big advertising budgets or large global markets. Reports like this offer no opportunity for consumers to differentiate between the two.
At what point, and for how long, should history be considered in the ethical value of a brand?
Ethics versus “ethics”:
There are ethical brands, and then there are truly ethical brands. This topic falls into similar territory as our previous point, but bear with me while I expand on the point.
It is entirely possible for a fashion brand to achieve a high ranking in this report while still using animal products, while still tanning leather using toxic chemicals in countries with questionable disposable techniques and eyebrow-raising workplace health and safety.
It is still possible for a company to achieve a high ranking in this report while utilising cotton that isn’t organically farmed, and rubber derived from petrochemicals instead of sustainably grown and tapped rubber trees.
It is still possible to achieve a high ranking while producing synthetic clothing at a fast-fashion rate, that sheds microfibres with every wash, pollutes our waterways and never, ever, biodegrades.
There are ethics, and then there are “ethics”.
The Baptist World Aid Ethical Fashion Report is seriously important, and we don’t want to discourage people from referring to it. It matters and it makes a difference. The report highlights the need for transparency and reporting. It provides an opportunity for customers to have visibility over brands so they can choose to support the good guys and boycott the bad. We simply wish to highlight the opportunities for improvement, and the questions consumers should also ask.
How did this brand get to achieve such a high ranking? What is their history? What are their values? What materials do they utilise? What are their policies for carbon offsetting, for taking back products at the end of their lifecycle, for recycling, for discounting stock? Are they ethical or are they only 'ethical'?
Ask the questions, spot the difference, and support those who do it right and have done it right since the start.
By Nick Savaidis